‘This Type of Exchange’ by Jess M. Miller

9:53

London Bridge is down.

That’s what they’ll say when the Queen dies. He’s read about it online. Couldn’t get the image out of his head. It ought to be something similar, over here. Eagle is down. That’s what they say in action films. It was Clinton’s code name, and it works better than anything. It works so well that he barely remembers the actual code. But this is not an action film; there is no script, and they have no other selves to escape to when this is over. Alice has been his secretary for seventeen years. Her face is blotched and gushing, ugly in the way that on-screen women rarely get to be.

‘A sniper, Ted. A sniper.’ She talks to him in the way that she builds his schedule, in bullet points which live up to their name, words that carry death.

Secret Service men spill in behind her, black and slick like ravens. ‘Come with us, sir,’ they say. But his brain is sludge. He can’t remember how to work his legs.

9:54

Slowly, he peels back his cuff to look at his watch, at the engraving on the other side facing his skin. Gratias ago. Thank you, in Latin. An inauguration present, the precursor to this present, he supposes—and for a moment he is a child at Christmas. Bleary and confused under wrapping paper; not sure if this present is the right shape, whether it matches what he asked for. But this is not the kind of present you scrawl down on paper. He unloops the watch from his wrist, lies it face-down on his desk. Not his desk anymore. He looks straight at Alice, takes her all in. This type of exchange is almost as heavy as she is. The next one will be different. The next exchange will not recognise the one now.

‘Sir, we have to move quickly.’

Eagle is down. He nods. He stands.

9:55

Alice steps towards him but the ravens push her back, lead her to the couch. An agent’s jacket catches on his holster. The momentary glimpse of a Glock 9 mm. Has he ever used it? Will he need to use it again? Does he ever think about it, on nights when he can’t sleep?

‘You think too much.’ Eagle’s words, just the other day. ‘You think more than all of Congress put together.’ It had been meant in affection. Let go in those few precious moments of exhale between the 8.45 and the 8.50, on a day still too young for malice, a day they’d let sleep in while they’d worked. Their own staff bleary-eyed since five thirty; their wives recently left for that peace conference in Geneva.

Hazel. Does she know? Has she seen it on the news? He should call her. But he’s left his phone on the desk, and they won’t let him turn back now.

9:56

These portraits on the corridor wall have watched him trudge by for two years and nine months. They’ve seen his bad days and his good days, his wins, and his losses. This convocation of eagles. Their faces stretched across time, across bank notes and history books. His Eagle looming at the end of the procession—the man with the shoes that will be the biggest to fill.

Ted’s own feet are two full sizes smaller. He is two inches shorter, twenty pounds heavier. They will have to expand the nest, add sticks and twigs and shiny things.

The corners of the painted man’s mouth are turned up in a smile. Tobacco has crinkled him in real life, but they haven’t painted that, of course, they haven’t. Smoking is a bad habit. And the President doesn’t have bad habits. Eagle told him that once, four moves from checkmate, ash collecting like dust on the shoulders of his knights. Both their ties dangling from the Deputy Chief of Staff’s office lamp. There was a man outside their door, but they liked to imagine that no-one knew about them here, playing chess in this deliberately abandoned office.

‘I don’t smoke,’ he’d said, and tapped his cigarette. ‘There is a reason, Ted, why your title includes the word vice and mine doesn’t. Ask the press. Any decent reporter will tell you that what you’re seeing now is an illusion—and the press only prints the truth. We all know that.’

He looks at the empty space on the wall. His own portrait will hang there soon. He wonders what they’ll paint out of him, to make him match the others. He lingers. And then the ravens carry him away, around the corner, and there it is. His oval office. His nest of shiny things. He looks once more around him. And then in his head, he says, action.

9:57

Cameras. Click, flash, click, flash. Like an old movie. He is photographed into being. The Secret Service steps away. One by one. Click, flash. His first captured moments. Frank walks over. Holds him by the shoulders. Click, flash. Everyone is there. The leaders of the free world. Of the saved and the damned. The ravens, the vultures. All the other birds. The Chief Justice picks up her Bible. He is sure to take short, sharp breaths, to paint shock and grief in nuanced layers onto his face. He’s been practising.

Networks will broadcast his moment across the world. Across time and bank notes and history books. And the press only prints the truth. We all know that, don’t we, Eagle? We all know you do nothing wrong, and when you do it’s either left out of the painting or passed on down, to the Vice President, because there’s a reason the title is called that, there is a reason these four letters distinguish the eagle from the crow. Because the Vice President will take your punches for you, won’t he? He helped you get here and asked no questions and certainly won’t ask any questions now. But your Vice President thinks too much. You told him that yourself. Gratias ago. Thank you, very much, for the advice.

‘Sir, please raise your right hand and repeat after me.’

Click, flash.

 

Written by Jess M. Miller.

Artwork by Rhianna Carr.

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